- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 25, 2014

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - Conducting certain types of embryonic stem cell research in Oklahoma would be a felony punishable by at least a year in prison under a bill that the Oklahoma House overwhelmingly approved on Tuesday.

The House voted 73-14 for the Protection of Human Life Act of 2013, despite concerns it sends the wrong message to the nation’s research community. The bill, which now heads to the Senate, prohibits “nontherapeutic research” that destroys a fertilized human egg, although the measure specifically exempts embryo transfers connected to in vitro fertilization.

“For me, and I believe for the majority of Oklahomans, the real question is about life,” said Rep. Dan Fisher, R-El Reno, a minister who wrote the bill. “When does life begin? I believe it begins at conception. And anything that is done to knowingly end that life is the ending of human life, and we generally call that murder.”

But opponents say it sends a message that Oklahoma is not open to taking part in groundbreaking research.

“Not only are we sending a message that we don’t want stem cell research, but that if you even try to do stem cell research in this state, you’re going to be a felon,” said Rep. Doug Cox, R-Grove, one of two physicians in the Legislature. “That’s not the message that I want the scientific community in the world to receive about the state of Oklahoma.”

The bill is opposed by the Oklahoma State Medical Association.

“We as an association don’t take a position on abortion, but any time the Legislature overrides the medical or clinical judgment of physicians and researchers, we’re going to be opposed to that,” said OSMA spokesman Wes Glinsmann.

Fisher likened the destruction of human embryos to leaving a baby alone outdoors to starve to death.

“The only thing that this embryo needs to become a fully developed baby is time and nourishment,” Fisher said.

The Legislature passed a similar bill in 2009, but it was vetoed by then-Democratic Gov. Brad Henry. Henry said then the measure would prohibit research that could potentially save lives. The House voted to override Henry’s veto, but the Senate did not.

Republican Gov. Mary Fallin has signed several anti-abortion measures during her three years in office, but her spokesman Alex Weintz said Tuesday the governor has not yet taken a position on this issue.

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Online:

House Bill 2070: http://bit.ly/1cLT5lm